Historical Highway Markers
With their texts of black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape, Virginia’s state historical highway markers are hard to miss along the commonwealth’s roadways. There are now more than 2,500 of them erected in Virginia to commemorate people, places, or events of regional, statewide, or national significance.
Virginia’s historical marker program is the oldest such program in the nation, beginning in 1927 when a handful of markers were erected along U.S. 1 between Richmond and Mount Vernon. Originally the Conservation and Economic Development Commission was tasked with creating historical markers. In 1949, the Virginia Department of Highways was assigned the responsibility for installing and maintaining new markers, and in 1950 the Virginia State Library took over researching and approving new makers.
Per the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) is tasked to “Approve the proposed text and authorize the manufacture of highway historical markers.” As such, DHR serves as a point of contact between marker Sponsors, the DHR contracted foundry, VDOT and the IDSP Contractor. DHR administers the application and review process for new markers, including review and approval of the historical content with the DHR Board (for historic significance and accuracy), and orders new markers from the foundry. DHR hosts a public website for describing the program and for making inquiries on Historic Markers which draws from the Historical Marker Database.
Historical Marker Application Process
Each year individuals, historical societies, civic groups, businesses, and local governments sponsor the creation of new historical highway markers. Since 1976, the Commonwealth of Virginia has required that a sponsor pay for the manufacture of an approved highway marker. Today that cost is about $1,770, as determined by the Ohio-based foundry (Sewah Studios) that manufactures the markers. In some jurisdictions, the sponsor also may be responsible for payment of expenses associated with installation of the sign.
The first step in proposing a new marker, however, costs nothing. It simply requires that a sponsor submit an application to DHR.
If you have an idea for a potential marker honoring an historical person, place, event, or institution in Virginia, be sure that the topic meets the first criterion: It must have significance beyond the local level and extend, at the very least, to a regional level within the state (e.g. the Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia, Tidewater, etc.). For additional guidance and information about topic eligibility, see “Highway Marker Criteria” in the application form and directions (see the link above).
Once an application is received by DHR for a proposed marker, DHR staff will determine if the marker fulfills the required eligibility. If the topic qualifies, the proposed marker’s text likely will be edited by DHR staff in consultation with our external advisory and editorial committee and with the sponsor to create a mutually agreed upon text. The goal during this process is to write a concise, polished, and historically accurate marker. After this phase is completed, DHR staff must then present the proposed marker to the Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to approve state historical highway markers.